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Winger Hardcover – May 14, 2013
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Ryan Dean West is the smartest student in the junior class at Pine Mountain boarding school, a starter on the rugby team, and two years younger than the rest of his classmates. He is also hopelessly in love with his best friend, Annie, who sees him as just a little kid. When Ryan Dean moves into Opportunity Hall, the dorm for misbehaving students (owing to an illegal cell phone encounter the previous year), he finds himself at odds with his roommate, the meanest member of their rugby team. Mark Boyett does a wonderful job narrating, especially Ryan Dean's voice, which reveals his wild imagination, full-blown adolescent hormones, and self-deprecating humor. Other characters' voices are equally believable. Friend Seanny is rendered with a deadpan monotone, while Screaming Ned, an old man the boys offer a ride to, is cantankerous, confused, and done with a high-pitched, scratchy cackle. Ryan Dean's cartoons, doodles, and charts, which add such charm to the print version, are described so that the listener doesn't miss anything. The resulting audiobook is laugh-out-loud-funny at times and heartbreakingly serious at others. This is a terrific recording of an unforgettable book.—Julie Paladino, East Chapel Hill High School, Chapel Hill, NC --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.
*Starred Review* After he opened a vein in YA lit with The Marbury Lens (2010) and then went completely nutso in Passenger (2012), about the only thing that Smith could do to surprise would be a hornball boarding-school romantic romp. Surprise! Well, sort of. At 14, Ryan Dean West is a couple years younger (and scrawnier) than the rest of the juniors at Pine Mountain. He is a plucky kid—despite a tendency to punctuate his every thought with “I am such a loser”—who stars in the rugby team due to his speed and tenacity. The rail ties of his single-track mind, though, are his exploits (or lack thereof) with the opposite sex, particularly his best friend Annie, who thinks he is “adorable.” In short, Ryan Dean is a slightly pervy but likable teen. He rates the hotness of every female in sight but also drops surprising bombs of personal depth on a friend’s homosexuality, the poisonous rivalries that can ruin friendships, and his own highly unstable mix of insecurity and evolving self-confidence. Much of the story seems preoccupied with the base-level joys and torments of being a teenager, content to float along with occasional bursts of levity from some nonessential but fun minicomics by Bosma. But at its heart, it is more in line with Dead Poets Society, and by the end this deceptively lightweight novel packs an unexpectedly ferocious punch. Grades 9-12. --Ian Chipman
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Ryan Dean may be brilliant, but he's also a 14-year-old, which means he does dumb stuff, usually in pursuit of love with Annie, the best friend he dearly wishes loved him romantically. He also does dumb stuff just to see if he can, and one of those stunts winds him up in his boarding school's dorm for troubled kids. Also there is Joey, a popular athlete. That Joey is also gay is almost a non-starter, but Andrew Smith knows his audience. He knows that while teenagers like to front as if they are open-minded, anything different scares them.
The story will grab you from its first pages, just as the characters will grab your heart. I do recommend that you have a box of tissues nearby because you will cry. Some of my toughest boys admitted to "watery eyes" as they read this book.
I love how Andrew Smith writes about and for teens. And I love Ryan Dean.
So one of the best things Winger has got going for it is it's male pov written by a male. This ship is real, y'all (unlike Ryan Dean, I try not to swear, even in my writing)! I mean, Ryan Dean is just such a....boy. A teenage boy at that. I had no trouble believing all the ridiculous things he thinks, says, and does throughout the novel. Peeing in a gatorade bottle rather than going to the bathroom? Check. Being pervy with every single female character (by "every single" I mean all of them, not single as in relationship status because...well, RDW has some homewrecker moments) in the book, particularly in his thoughts? Check. Ryan Dean is really astute and a remarkably good narrator, but he's also straight-up dumb sometimes, but that's okay because it fits so well with reality as well as the world of the book.
See, when Ryan Dean is acting like a hormonal idiot, Andrew used his other characters to take up the slack. There's Joey Cosentino: the Voice of Reason. I don't care that Joey is gay, I am totally in love with him. Joey's job is to point out every time Ryan Dean is being stupid, but he always has RD's back, on the rugby field and off, and I have nothing but respect for him. He's a Nice Guy, but he's not above getting dirty to defend himself or calling someone out when they need to be put in place.
There's Annie: the Best Friend and Love Interest. It's way cool seeing Annie face reality when it comes to her relationship with Ryan Dean. I, being a girl who at one time was sixteen, innately know what's going on in Annie's head so it's way cool understanding her thoughts while actually reading from Ryan Dean's mind. Love it.
There's Chas: the Hostile Roommate & Teammate/Romantic Competition. Chas's purpose really confused me during much of the novel, but his presence actually puts Ryan Dean into the role of bad guy at one point, which forces the reader and Ryan Dean to actively acknowledge his fault. Also, Chas is instrumental to the resolution of Ryan Dean's story.
There's Seanie (the Comic Relief, insofar as sometimes Ryan Dean has to be serious for a second and not be funny himself) and JP (the Other Romanic Competition). These guys...well, I didn't care a whole whole lot for them because Seanie is just an oddball and JP is a douche, but again, we see Ryan Dean in a different light because of them. Ryan Dean makes a lot of mistakes, and Seanie and JP are kind of the collateral damage.
There's Megan: Love Interest/Temptation. While Annie is the attainable-but-unattainable best friend/crush, Megan is the unattainable-but-attainable (yes, there's a difference) hot girl that Ryan Dean wants because she's hot, but shouldn't want because she's otherwise taken. Yet, while Annie is spending her time wrestling with her feelings for Ryan Dean, Megan decisively chooses to spend some quality time with Ryan Dean pressed up against the water fountain, if you know what I mean. Megan helps Ryan Dean transform into the Wild Boy of Bainbridge Island.
There's Casey: the Bully. Grade A douchenozzle. Spends all his time picking on everybody else. His presence gives Ryan Dean the opportunity to be both the victim and the hero.
There's the staff: Mr. Farrow (Perpetually Absent Authority Figure), Ms. Singer (Perpetually Present Stick-Up-Her-Butt [possibly a broomstick] Female Authority Figure Who Might Be a Witch Constantly Cursing Ryan Dean), Mr. Wellins (Pervy Teacher Who Reads Sex Into Everything), Coach M (Authority Figure Who Actually Means Something to the Students), and Nurse Hickey (Hot Nurse With Suggestive Name). These characters aren't hugely present, but each one has a unique relationship with Ryan Dean so I figured I'd include them. There are others as well, like guys on the rugby and football teams, Isabel, Annie's parents, etc, but not too intricately included in the story. I did just kind of reduced all these characters to a small label-able characteristic or two, but trust me when I say they're important.
So the characters are all great. The story, at least at first, was a bit slow for me, but it picks up. I thought Winger was supposed to be just a funny novel. And it really is a hilarious look at Ryan Dean trying to fit in at his school, trying to navigate the waters of romance, trying to not die either on the rugby field (by an opponent OR teammate because it was touch-and-go sometimes), trying not to be cursed by Ms. Singer. Winger reads like a journal with Ryan Dean frequently breaking the fourth wall to talk to the reader, rating things on his ridiculous scales like my rating above, and drawing awesome cartoons. Seriously, the drawings add an awesome artistic element. I really hope this trend gets a kickstart because I love it. So I'm reading Winger, expecting it to continue the funny when WHAM! Out of absolutely nowhere, Andrew Smith decided to punch a hole through my heart. It took me a couple of weeks to read Winger, but one night I decided to just finish it in one sitting. It was about 1 AM so when this crazy unimaginable, unexpected, heart-wrenching event occurred, I couldn't take it anymore. Oh, sure, I finished Winger at about 1:30, and then for at least an additional 20 minutes I sobbed like my 3-year old niece when someone tells her no. So...thanks for that, Andrew Smith, you cruel genius you!
Sometimes you are going along reading a perfectly good book and then all of a sudden the book changes. Maybe you don't even noticing it happening, but all of a sudden you're mind is someplace completely different than where you started this book. Andrew Smith, is clearly made of some genius. By the end of this book, everything I thought it was about was wrong. By the time I saw it coming it was too late and my chest was already tight with ALL OF THE FEELINGS! This book is a roller coaster of emotions, so keep your arms and legs inside the car at all times and just enjoy the ride.
Ryan Dean West, oh how I love you. He made me laugh so much (well maybe giggle). He just felt so real and unscripted. He was such a little shit sometimes, but very true. I would have hung out with him if we went to the same school even if he is a bit pervy (aren't we all). The other characters in this novel were fantastic too. Each of them just worked so well and even if you couldn't like them they fit. Mostly, there are a couple of people I did not care for and began to loathe as the story progressed. There are just terrible people in the world and there's no avoiding that fact. Joey was a great mediator for all the crap that Ryan was stirring up. Ryan was just so lost and Joey was always there to try to set him straight.
Don't think this is just a book about the guy getting the girl though. If that's all you think this is you'll be very surprised. There are so many things that this book holds, I couldn't even begin to list them all. This book is a delicious rainbow cake. Layer after layer of scrumptious story cake. (Does that even make sense?) Anyways, this book is amazing and I'm too O_O to talk rationally about it. I also don't want to spoil a glorious (tear-filled) second of it. If you want a book to make you feel all of the things. Do not miss reading this one.
"I said a silent prayer."
"I said, 'Okay. I don't care. I lose.'"
"'The Wild Boy of Bainbridge Island doesn't talk,' I said. 'He grunts.'"